EMDR Therapy in Substance Use Treatment

Oct 12, 2023 | Uncategorized

Avanti Behavioral Health provides cutting-edge addiction treatment and mental health care services for 13–18-year-olds and their families. Since not all people are the same, our therapy program has been designed to offer a range of options. The onset of substance misuse in adolescence is frequently driven by unhealthy attempts to numb the symptoms of childhood trauma. 

A 2016 study by Columbia University researchers concluded that “potentially traumatic events in childhood are associated with risk for illicit drug use among US adolescents.” Lead author Hannah Carliner, ScD, MPH, remarked at the time that “abuse and domestic violence were particularly harmful to children, increasing the chances of all types of drug use in the adolescent years. We also found that trauma such as car accidents, natural disasters, and major illness in childhood increased the chances that teens would use marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs.”

Unprocessed trauma is prevalent among many people with addiction—including adolescents. “Early stress establishes a lower ‘set point’ for a child’s internal stress system: such a person becomes stressed more easily than normal throughout their life,” wrote addiction expert Gabor Maté in 2012. A child who is stressed early in life will be more overactive and reactive and is triggered more easily. Such children may also become more anxious and distressed. “Now, compare a person—child, adolescent, or adult—whose baseline arousal is normal with another whose baseline state of arousal is at a higher level. Give them both alcohol: both may experience the same intoxicating effect, but the one who has this higher physiological arousal will have the added effect of feeling pleasure from the relief of that stress.”

Because of this strong correlation, when present, trauma needs to be addressed in addiction treatment. Avanti’s Teen Trauma Therapy program offers the highest quality trauma therapy in the Denver Metro area. One of the modalities utilized in our intensive outpatient program (IOP) for teenage clients is known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

EMDR therapy was “initially developed in 1987 for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is guided by the Adaptive Information Processing model,” explains the American Psychological Association. “The Adaptive Information Processing model considers symptoms of PTSD and other disorders (unless physically or chemically based) to result from past disturbing experiences that continue to cause distress because the memory was not adequately processed.” 

“This therapy is based on the theory that traumatic events aren’t properly processed in the brain when they happen,” wrote Hope Gillette on PsychCentral in 2021. “This is why they continue to affect us—with nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of the trauma happening again—long after the actual trauma is over.”

EMDR uses elements of cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and bilateral brain stimulation, such as eye movements or taps, to stimulate the brain’s natural healing processes. By using bilateral stimulation and focused attention, EMDR helps teens reprocess traumatic memories, alleviate emotional distress, and promote healing and resilience. It has shown remarkable success in treating PTSD, anxiety disorders, phobias, and other trauma-related conditions.

“One theory behind how EMDR works is that it helps the two sides of the brain to communicate with one another — the left side, which specializes in logic and reason, and the right side, which specializes in emotion,” wrote Hope Gillette

“EMDR therapy can help teenagers in many ways, from providing resources for grounding and stabilizing to reprocessing negative beliefs and traumatic events,” according to the EMDR International Association. “Teenagers, maybe more than any other developmental age group are navigating so much in their worlds. The cross-over from childhood into adulthood involves changes that involve the brain being primed for flexibility, creativity, less inhibition, and increased peer connection. Teens are learning and testing strategies to leave the home and become an adult, making what parents might think are questionable choices along the way.”

Providing young people and their families with the tools they need to thrive is a core aspect of the Avanti Behavioral Health mission. Our treatment program has been created with a focus on individualized care for each client. Each participant in the program receives a completely customized treatment process and each phase of the process is assessment-driven. Our overall mission is to provide comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for teens. 

We believe that recovery from a substance use disorder is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events at this time.